Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Alexander T. Levine

Co-Major Professor

Stephen P. Turner


Dynamic Systems Theory, Embodiment, Enactivism, Interactivism, Phenomenology, Social Practices


Theories of cognition and theories of social practices and institutions have often each separately acknowledged the relevance of the other; but seldom have there been consistent and sustained attempts to synthesize these two areas within one explanatory framework. This is precisely what my dissertation aims to remedy. I propose that certain recent developments and themes in philosophy of mind and cognitive science, when understood in the right way, can explain the emergence and dynamics of social practices and institutions. Likewise, the view I construct explains how social practices and institutions shape the character of cognition of their constituent agents. Moreover, I explain both cognitive and social agency under the single explanatory framework provided by Dynamic Systems Theory.

Drawing upon the phenomenological tradition, "embodied, "extended", "embedded", "enactive", and "ecological" approaches to cognition, as well as the conceptual resources of Dynamic Systems Theory, I construct a theory of agency that sees cognitive and social agents as far-from-equilibrium, open, recursively self-maintenant dynamic systems. Depending on the specifics of concrete circumstances, such systems, which I call "Dynamic Embodied Agents" (or DEAs), may develop and possess emergent capacities for error-detection, flexible learning, normative behavior, representation, self-reflection, various modes of pattern-recognition, a temporal sense of self, and even moral responsibility. Some such systems are also sensitive to perceived social influences (practices and institutions); while reciprocally constituting and causally affecting them.